Cautious Optimism: How the GOP Might Just Save Itself

Small Dip Seen In Unemployment Numbers, First Drop Since January
As has been widely reported, the face of the American electorate is changing. This has never been so well exemplified as it was on November 6, 2012, when a majority of Democrats across the country and across the broad spectrum of elected office were swept to victory on a tide of minorities, women, and special interests that segments of the GOP had either offended, marginalized, or persecuted – or all of the above. Their success has been recognized as marking a new era in American politics, as the broad base on which politicians depend shifts and teems with new life and newfound influence. The demographic ground is shifting tectonically under our feet, and intends to continue its current trends, according to NPR:

Paul Taylor, director of the Social & Demographic Trends project at the Pew Research Center in Washington, says the country is on a trajectory to become a majority nonwhite nation by the early 2040s. Today it’s 63 percent white; by 2020 it will be about 60 percent white.

The forecasts made by Taylor are based on immigration trends, birthrates and mortality rates. “As the complexion of the population changes,” he says, “so too will the complexion of the electorate. In 2012 it was 28 percent nonwhite, a record. By 2020 it will be more than 30 percent nonwhite.”

This may not seem like a big shift, until you realize that Obama won the presidency by a 3.7 percentage point margin over Romney. Single points can make a huge difference in electoral politics. From the Pew Research Center:

The minority groups that carried President Obama to victory yesterday by giving him 80% of their votes are on track to become a majority of the nation’s population by 2050, according to projections by the Pew Research Center. They currently make up 37% of the population, and they cast a record 28% of the votes in the 2012 presidential election, according to the election exit polls.

By 2050, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population could be as high as 29%, up from 17% now. The black proportion of the population is projected to rise slightly to 13%, while the Asian share is projected to increase to 9% from its current 5%. Non-Hispanic whites, 63% of the current population, will decrease to half or slightly less than half of the population by 2050.

These minority groups gave eighty percent of their vote to Obama, and have traditionally voted Democratic in similar numbers before Obama came along. This means that a drastic increase in their numbers over the next couple decades provides a drastic increase in the Democratic base, and in votes for Democratic candidates (and depending on how Obama’s plans for immigration reform pan out, the shift could have an even greater impact). That is, unless Republicans can reform their image in an effective and timely manner, and shed or at least marginalize the more extreme elements that make them unappealing to, well, everyone but themselves. The party of old, white and ostensibly self-made men is severely lacking in minorities, and perhaps cripplingly so (just take a look at the famous national convention photos of the two parties side-by-side; the Dems are an array of color, while the Reps are indistinguishable from one another). A major overhaul is needed. They need a leader to do this, and whoever emerges as the face of the New Republican Party could very well be their nominee in 2016.

(I’ve written a good deal about the lessons the GOP should take from the 2012 election – here, among others – mostly out of a fervent hope that they would take them, really take them to heart, and make the necessary changes. There has been some talk here and there about what might be done, but this is the first concrete development on the issue that I am aware of.)

US Republicans.JPEG-0e00aWell, my breath remains bated, but the GOP may finally have woken up and started smelling the sweet aroma of change that is brewing around them – and boy, has it been a-brewin’. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal – one of their own – has poured them a big steaming mug of Change and Hard Truths, setting himself up as the new Republican leader who’s not afraid of change, and not afraid to admit fallibility. Dubious or not, I give him full points for this, as reported by the Washington Post:

In the keynote address at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting, Jindal said the GOP doesn’t need to change its values but “might need to change just about everything else we are doing.”

“We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults,” he said. “We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”

Jindal took the stage at the Republican National Committee’s “winter meeting,” and, in his keynote address, called them all stupid. No doubt he was trying to make a splash, and set himself apart as a common-sense kind of guy – maybe trying to channel a little Chris Christie, the governor most well known for calling people stupid, on both sides of the aisle, browbeating fellow politicians into submission, and actually gaining a pretty popular reputation for it – and for sure trying to distance himself from some of his own more alienating positions – one example – to make himself more broadly appealing to the electorate in preparation for his 2016 run…but man. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t right. Ulterior motives or not, I couldn’t have said it better myself. In fact, that is a lot like what I’ve been saying, but it sounds a lot better coming from the mouth of an established Republican. And more importantly, maybe reality is finally getting through to them.

He called on conservatives to stop fighting with Democrats on their terms about the size of government in Washington and focus instead on connecting with voters across the nation.

“Today’s conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits, the mammoth federal debt, the shortfall in our entitlement programs,” he said. “We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping. This is a rigged game, and it is the wrong game for us to play.”

The right game for them now is damage control, and rebranding. I don’t know if Jindal is the best person to lead this reformation, but he’s made himself a contender by bringing it up so publicly.

Not to be outdone, upon hearing Jindal’s remarks, Chris Christie turned and slugged the guy next to him, then grabbed the nearest microphone and proclaimed all of the leadership’s mothers were whores.

The Louisiana governor’s blunt remarks follow criticism from another high-profile Republican based outside Washington who publicly blasted GOP leadership on Capitol Hill: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

One of the party’s most popular voices, Christie earlier in the month criticized his party’s “toxic internal politics” after House Republicans initially declined to approve disaster relief for victims of Superstorm Sandy. He said it was “disgusting to watch” their actions and he faulted the GOP’s most powerful elected official, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

chris_christieChristie I think is a much more viable candidate in 2016 than Jindal would be. He has broad popular support, more than a little of which is on the left after his much-renowned handling of Hurricane Sandy and advocacy for his constituents – the consumate leader and protector – in the face of Congressional obstructionism and “dereliction of duty” from his own party, as well as his equally-renowned praise of Obama for exhibiting the same competent qualities for emergency management. But I digress.

Besides Jindal’s and Christie’s vociferous and at times profane leadership, another development that gives me hope is this, again from the Post article:

[…] Republican leaders promised to release in March a report, dubbed the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” outlining recommendations on party rules and messaging designed to appeal to a rapidly changing American electorate. President Barack Obama’s November victory was fueled, in part, by overwhelming support from the nation’s Hispanic, Asian and African-American communities.

This may of course turn out to be nothing, but the fact that this effort is being put forth, combined with everything else, makes me think that maybe, just maybe, slow tectonic movements are taking place that push the GOP to a more appealing, mainstream, reality-based position, and away from their fringe element. From a Buzzfeed article yesterday:

“Look at our map to 270 — we basically have to hit eight states dead-center bullseye in every single state and if we miss one, we’re out,” [Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus] said. “We can’t do that anymore. If we’re being honest about it, we have not really won a decisive presidential election since 1988.”

The solution, Priebus said, lies in growing the party and becoming “an exciting party that smiles.”

“Every vote counts,” he said. “The door is open for any person who wants to walk in that door and be a member of this party. We are going to be the party that respects all of our members. As Ronald Reagan said, my 80 percent friend doesn’t make my 20 percent enemy.”

Priebus’ agenda largely reflects the developing conclusions of the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project which is conducting a formal review of the party’s losses — with a greater emphasis on messaging and structural reform and less on policy.

At least now we’re all looking to the future. More as this story continues.

  1. The problem here is not that the GOP doesn’t have sensible moderates. It’s because there are not enough of them. For every Jindal, or Christie, or David Brooks, there are far too many hardline ideologues. These folks are solidly intransigent towards any meaningful attempt at moderation. Swaying them will be a difficult, and long-term proposition. For example, look at the current movement in swing states by conservatives to rig the electoral college. GOP moderates think it’s a really bad idea, but have been reluctant to oppose it. They are in a tough predicament. If they express too much criticism at the right-wing, it might rebel. If they are too acquiescent, the party’s brand will weaken even further.

  2. kipp said:

    I know what you mean regarding what’s going on at the state level, and the legislation conservatives are trying to push through statehouses to legally gerrymander districts in their favor. You’re exactly right about the problem the moderates face by being both outnumbered and in a weak position to oppose the more radical elements. I wish there were a lot more of them. I sincerely hope though that a leader will rise within the party and bring it back to sensibility, once the majority of the party wakes up and realizes its weakened state. If they keep going the way they are, they could very well marginalized themselves completely with the electorate. Or we might even see a major third party emerge on the right (just maybe). What they do as a whole in the near future will define the course of their party for quite a while.

    Thanks for reading!

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